The following is the final article in a recurring series featuring Kevin Lu and Joe D’Amelio’s cross country roadtrip, #RoundaboutUSA. Previous articles can be found at http://passionpassport.com/category/articles/.

Sunrise in Jacksonville, FL. (Photo Credit: Kevin Lu)
Sunrise in Jacksonville, FL. (Photo Credit: Kevin Lu)

Kevin:

The last few weeks of the trip took us from Florida to New York. We continued to marvel at beautiful landscapes and meet incredibly kind people, yet I was growing tired of being on the road; of constantly moving from place to place. I felt stuck between wanting to appreciate and experience all the newness and wanting so desperately to have some quiet time at home.

The most memorable moments of those last weeks were in Savannah, Georgia and the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. As we were leaving Savannah – literally pulling out of our parking spot on the street – someone (turned out to be @benwillis) spotted Joe and I through our car window and asked us if we were the two guys driving around the country.  We were completely caught off guard; this was the first time someone had randomly recognized us in public. It was a strange experience; we were recognizable.

Then in Tennessee, as we approached the Great Smoky Mountains, a fellow Instagrammer (who wishes to remain anonymous) got in touch with us to let us know that he had booked a hotel room for us for the night. We had never stayed in a hotel of that caliber – it was the first time Joe and I went swimming in a pool on our trip! I was extremely shocked that people we had never even met before would be so kind and accommodating.

“I felt stuck between wanting to appreciate and experience all the newness and wanting so desperately to have some quiet time at home.”

Truthfully, this entire trip was made possible by other people’s generosity, especially those from the Instagram community. Because of our limited budget, we had originally planned for 60 days on the road; it was day 74 when we finally made it back to New York City. We are forever indebted to those who hosted us, showed us around, took us out for meals, and – to our complete surprise – put us up in fancy hotels.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo Credit: Kevin Lu)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo Credit: Kevin Lu)

Despite those moments, the end of the trip was, in reality, exceptionally challenging for me. I couldn’t wait to go home. What wore me down the most was the fact that I had been homeless for more than 2 months. It was difficult to have no physical and emotional anchor point to retreat to day in and day out and I was exhausted from constantly relocating. Not having a proper bed to sleep in every night significantly contributed to my eagerness to return to New York as well.

And yet, the most difficult part of the trip was saying goodbye to the new friends we had met along the way. I would have never foreseen this to be a challenge, but it was especially difficult for me to meet someone, get to know them, and then immediately have to part ways. The friendships that I made on the road will always be special; after all, they were the heartbeat of the trip and  made this the journey of a lifetime that I will never forget.

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#RoundAboutUSA. (Photo Credit: Kevin Lu)
#RoundAboutUSA. (Photo Credit: Kevin Lu)

Joe:

Before the end of our trip, I wanted to take Kevin to a place I go to every summer: Assateague State Park in Maryland. The beach there is perfect – it’s long and quiet, and if you’re lucky you’ll see a few wild horses cooling themselves off where the water meets the sand.  We decided that from there we would make our way toward the Jersey Shore, our last destination before driving into New York.

As our trip came to a close it felt like time was slowing down.  I was grateful for that; I wanted to take in every last moment of the journey. It was hard for me to grasp the fact that this adventure was ending. I had left home for a reason, and here I was driving back to it. Without any money and no job lined up, what would I do once I got there? I was still constantly asking myself “what’s next?”

Kevin was quite anxious for our trip to end. He was really quiet on our last few days on the road and wasn’t as interested in exploring new places. That was frustrating, especially given the fact that I really wanted to take advantage of each moment. He missed his family and was exhausted from sleeping in the car on most nights. We spent most of our final days in silence.

Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: Joe D'Amelio)
Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: Joe D’Amelio)

Despite that frustration, I was always grateful that Kevin had come with me on this trip.  He taught me the value of patience and about the importance of staying calm in tough moments; those moments taught me to appreciate things I had previously taken for granted (like my bed and home-cooked meals). One lesson that I will forever keep with me is the idea that everything – good and bad – happens for a reason. If a challenge is thrown my way, I don’t have to understand why; I just have to accept it and know that in the end it is for a greater purpose. Everything that happened on the road – from sleepless nights, to lonely days; from broken down cars, to stolen bikes, to budget crises – made the trip was it was and changed us forever. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that would be difficult – if not impossible – to recreate.

“One lesson that I will forever keep with me is the idea that everything – good and bad – happens for a reason. If a challenge is thrown my way, I don’t have to understand why; I just have to accept it and know that in the end it is for a greater purpose.”

On our very last night, somewhere on the Jersey turnpike, we stopped for a cup of coffee.  We sat across from one another at a small table, sipped our drinks and said nothing.  At one point we caught each other’s eyes. It was obvious that we were both physically and mentally exhausted. In that moment, I finally felt comfort in knowing that we were on our way home. Maybe, after all, it was time.

Kevin and I smiled at each other and nodded our heads as if to accept what was about to happen. We grabbed out coffees and got back in the car. I remember that moment very clearly.  We suddenly had a new boost of energy and started to reminisce about the 74 days we spent together on the road.  We relived some of the highs and some of the lows; it was a really nice way to reconnect and end our journey.

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Then, almost without warning, we came around a turn and the NYC skyline jutted out right before us.  We screamed in excitement. We were home.

NYC. (Photo Credit: Joe D'Amelio)
NYC. (Photo Credit: Joe D’Amelio)

When I walked into my house, my mom cried. My girlfriend hugged me as though she hadn’t seen me for months. It was so great to see everyone. I almost forgot what it was like to be around all of them, though it didn’t take long before I acclimated to my “new” surroundings.

When I woke up the next morning, I headed downstairs to the kitchen where I found my father waiting for me with a cup of coffee. We talked for a while and he seemed to sense that something was bothering me. “What’s the matter?” he asked. I looked at him and shrugged. “Now what?”

I went back upstairs and checked out Instagram. I saw a comment directed to me from someone in India; there was another from someone in England, and yet another from Switzerland.  They all said similar things: “Come visit us here! We will host you and show you everything our country has to offer.” I smiled. Although our #RoundAboutUSA trip was over, more adventure is still to come. I will forever be a man on the move, dreaming, wondering, searching for the answer to the everlasting question: “what’s next?”

 

Words and photos: Kevin Lu & Joe D’Amelio